Justine Last (Jennifer Aniston)
is thirty years old, with a boring husband (John C. Reilly), a mind-numbingly
dull job at the Retail Rodeo, and no prospect of anything different in the
future. Her world is a tiny, enclosed bubble of unfulfilling work, superficial
friendships, and an unsatisfying marriage; no wonder, then, that she is full of
simmering dissatisfaction and frustrated anger at the world. She's a "good
girl" on the surface, but when she meets young Holden (Jake Gyllenhaal),
an introverted but passionate college dropout, her desires and frustrations
begin to bubble up to the surface beyond her control.
It appears that The Good
Girl was marketed at least in part as a comedy, or as a comedy/drama, but
it's really not a comedy in any meaningful way, unless we consider any film
with a few humorous moments to be a comedy. The central focus of the film is
squarely tragic: Justine coming face to face with the meaninglessness of her
life, and having to deal with the frightening prospect of making a radical
change in that life. Some of Justine's co-workers are portrayed as oddball,
mildly funny figures, but they're not drawn beyond the realms of realism;
similarly, a few mildly humorous moments in some scenes will make the viewer
smile. But these are simply lightening touches on an otherwise quite serious
There's no attempt here to
"prettify" Justine's life; many small touches throughout the film,
such as her husband's pot-smoking habit, add up to a life that's made bearable
only by moments of mindless escape. It's particularly telling that Justine sees
only two choices in her life: acceptance of the stultifying status quo, or
complete rejection of everything and everyone in her life. She doesn't seem
able to consider alternatives, such as trying to change her life from within;
the film suggests, without pushing it at the viewers, that Justine is in fact
caught in a trap formed over the years by her upbringing, the expectations of
family and friends, and the routine of work.
The story never quite gells,
however. The film centers around Justine's emotional state and the choices she
makes, and in the beginning does a good job of setting up the circumstances for
the dilemma she finds herself in later. Toward the middle and end of the story,
though, some of the decisions she makes seem insufficiently supported by the
character development up to that point. There's also a slight inconsistency in
tone late in the film, as it takes a short swerve almost into farce for the
duration of one scene between Justine and Holden, before settling back into its
Oddly, some of the material
that would have made The Good Girl a stronger drama was left on the
cutting room floor. In the commentary for the deleted scenes, director Miguel
Arteta remarks for most of these scenes that he wanted to leave them in, but
had to cut them to keep the film's running time down. At only 94 minutes, The
Good Girl indeed is as short as a typical comedy; but the additional few
minutes of deleted material would have developed the story significantly,
particularly in regard to Justine's ultimate decision about her life.
The Good Girl doesn't
entirely succeed as a story, but it gets credit for trying. The film takes an
honest, unsparing look at people in dead-end lives, and follows the story
through to its dramatically consistent conclusion; there's no feel-good ending
tacked on here. It's an ambiguous ending that will leave you wondering exactly
what it means in terms of Justine's future.
20th Century Fox presents The
Good Girl on DVD in an anamorphic transfer that preserves the film's
original 1.85:1 aspect ratio. I can't say as I particularly liked the
cinematography or the color choices in the film; certainly the Retail Rodeo
scenes are intentionally ugly and stark, but other scenes as well have a color
scheme that never quite looks right. My sense of dissatisfaction with the look
of the film is clearly drawn in part from the fact that the DVD transfer
handles the color and contrast quite badly.
In general, the colors look a
bit "off": flesh-tones and pastels are sometimes slightly
orange-tinted, while areas that are supposed to be dark acquire a greenish
tinge. The contrast is fine in most scenes, but when the image becomes very
dark, even in a small part of the image, that area shifts to complete black and
loses detail. I noticed some flaws in the transfer, such as a shimmering effect
in some of the darker areas, that I would attribute to compression: the DVD
unfortunately wastes half the disc's space on a pan-and-scan version of the
film (including a duplicate commentary track) on the flip side of the DVD.
Unfortunately, edge enhancement is also visible throughout the film; it doesn't
get out of hand, but it's noticeable.
On the bright side, the
transfer of The Good Girl is very clean: there are no print flaws, and
there's essentially no noise in the picture. Taken overall, it's a watchable
transfer, but it could have been a lot better.
The Good Girl is
presented with a satisfying Dolby 5.1 soundtrack. For this mainly
dialogue-based film, the surround channels add mostly general ambiance rather
than specific surround effects, with the result that the overall audio
experience is fuller than with just a 2.0 track. Dialogue is always clear, and
the occasional voiceover of Justine-as-narrator is well-balanced with the rest
of the track. A Dolby 2.0 Spanish track is also included, along with English
and Spanish subtitle options.
The highlight of the bonus
features on The Good Girl is the presence of a great deal of commentary
from the makers of the film. Director Miguel Arteta and writer/actor Mike White
provide a full-length audio commentary for the film; they also provide optional
commentary for a set of nine deleted scenes. It's not the most insightful
commentary in the world, but it's moderately interesting.
Jennifer Aniston also provides
scene-specific commentary for a handful of scenes throughout the film, mainly
focusing on her impressions of the other actors and her experiences working on
a tight shooting schedule. Aniston's commentary is handled very well on the
DVD, as it automatically skips over any scenes that have no recorded commentary
and moves to the next scene that she talks about.
There's also a short "gag
reel," which is almost entirely made up of shots of the various actors
breaking into laughter while doing their scenes. In other words, though the
moment might have been funny on the set, the humor is just not captured on the
gag reel. An "alternate ending montage" offers a very slightly different
perspective on the conclusion of the film.
The Good Girl suffers
from not being given full rein as a drama rather than a comedy; though its
lighter moments are well done, the strength of the film lies in its serious
material, which paints a realistic and unflattering portrayal of people caught
in dead-end lives. If The Good Girl had been given a better DVD
transfer, it would probably be worth recommending a buy, but with image quality
no more than average, I'd suggest it as a good rental choice.